First, some basic information: The story takes place on a world where all humans and all domesticated animals brought to the world are female - if I remember correctly, something about the planet interfered with the production of testosterone. Since the technology that was originally brought to the planet wasn't going to last and couldn't be replaced, other methods of reproduction had to be developed - Imprinters and Cloners. Cloners can make other living beings spontaneously pregnant with clones. They use their skills on domesticated animals. Imprinters can combine the genetic material of two living beings, and they are the only way humans ever reproduce on this world.
Now, on to the story: Lynn is an Imprinter. Imprinters are so rare and valued that they are kept under close watch by the Sisters and are rarely allowed to leave the temples in which they are housed. Imprinters are supposed to spend their days either creating new life or meditating. While Lynn understands the importance of her job, she hates how restrictive her life is. She wants to be able to go outside and enjoy the world around her.
When Sister Smith arrives as Lynn's temple, it looks like Lynn might be able to enjoy a brief bit of freedom. Smith wants to transfer Lynn, a talented Imprinter, to her own temple in Landfall. Lynn's life would be at least as restrictive there, but at least she'd be able to enjoy the world during her journey to the temple.
Unfortunately, the trip to the temple isn't without its problems. A snow lion attack makes it necessary to spend time under the protection of a squadron of Rangers, and Lynn finds herself falling for Lieutenant Kim Ramon. Discovering that Kim feels the same way about her should be a good thing...except that Imprinters are said to lose their abilities if they cease being virgins.
After finishing Rangers at Roadsend, I knew I wanted to read more of Fletcher's works. When a good sale came around, I bought almost all of her stuff in one go, although it was a while before I got around to reading any of them. The Temple at Landfall turned out to be just what I needed to help get me out of a bit of a reading slump.
One of my biggest issues with Rangers at Roadsend was its pacing. I'm happy to say that the pacing of The Temple at Landfall was much better, at least during the first half of it. I loved getting to learn a little more about the world through Lynn's eyes. The decision to transfer her to another temple came fairly early on, and there was even a good bit of action when Sister Smith opted to ignore all advice and move forward, despite reports of snow lions in the area. I loved Lynn and Kim's earliest conversations – Kim assumed that Lynn was just as foolish as Sister Smith, and Lynn corrected that impression quickly. The two of them had some very cute moments together.
While I enjoyed the forbiddenness of Kim and Lynn's attraction to one another, it did lead to some moments that were difficult to read, because I liked the two of them so much. I knew, pretty much from the instant that they acted on their attraction, that things could not end well – I just hadn't expected things to go so badly so soon. I was on the edge of my seat, hoping things would turn out all right for the two of them and wondering how Fletcher was going to get them back together after they were separated.
Even though I enjoyed reading about the two of them, I must admit that Chip and Katryn's romance in Rangers at Roadsend was better and more believable. For a good chunk of the book, I couldn't get over my feeling that Lynn's feelings for Kim could easily be puppy love. Kim was basically the first non-Sister Lynn had spent much time with since she was a child. Also, Kim was the one who protected and saved Lynn during the snow lion attack – it would be perfectly understandable for Lynn to develop strong feelings for her. I wish more of the word count had been devoted to developing Kim and Lynn's relationship after they met up again.
The weakest parts of the book, for me, were all the philosophical/theological/world-building conversations with the heretics. Those began maybe halfway through the book, and I felt they interrupted the flow of the story (certainly the pacing), felt kind of clunky, and just generally took me out of the story. The world-building information was worked into the story better during the first half of the book. I had enjoyed recognizing the science-speak in some of the Sisters' prayers (like the one that refers to “Himoti's sacred petri dish”). The discussions with the heretics broke that stuff down in a way that I didn't feel was necessary, at least not for that many pages.
Unfortunately, the more detailed look at the world-building that the discussions with the heretics and the appendix (extracts from the diary of Peter McKay, one of the founding colonists) provided brought some glaring issues to light that I might otherwise have been able to ignore. For instance, only one in one thousand people are Cloners, and one in ten thousand are Imprinters. Saying they're rare is one thing, but these more specific numbers made it difficult to imagine how the colony was even still alive. It takes even Lynn, who is widely known as a very talented Imprinter, hours to combine genetic information and help a single woman become pregnant. If only one in ten thousand people are Imprinters, I don't see how the number of births could keep pace with the number of deaths, much less allow the population to grow. As detailed as the world-building is, it doesn't always seem to be very well thought out.
Despite the issues I had with this book, I still enjoyed it. It hit all the right soft sci-fi buttons for me, and I'm glad I already own more books in the series. I plan to continue reading in chronological order, so it looks like next up is The Walls of Westernfort, which appears to take place right after the events of this book. The main character wants to be a Temple Guard. After the way the Rangers kicked the butts of the Temple Guards in this book (the Rangers are awesome), it'll be interesting to see if I can take this new main character seriously.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- Arrows of the Queen (book) by Mercedes Lackey - Those who'd like another fantasy book might want to try this or one of Lackey's other Heralds of Valdemar books. Those who'd like a book starring a gay character (I don't think Lackey has one starring a lesbian character, although it's been a while since I last read any of the books) might want to start with Magic's Pawn instead - just a warning, those particular books get very angsty at times.
- First Test (book) by Tamora Pierce - This is aimed at a younger audience than Fletcher's book, but those who'd like another fantasy book starring strong female main characters may still want to try it or another one of Pierce's books. First Test and the later books in that quartet may be more appealing than some of the Pierce's other books, however, because the main character cannot do magic - she has to rely entirely on normal human skills. I have written about the audio book version of First Test.
- Archangel (book) by Sharon Shinn - The first of Shinn's Samaria books. This is a series that, from what I can remember, reads like fantasy, up until maybe book 3, which is I think the point at which I stopped reading. Those who'd like something else that mixes sci-fi, fantasy, and romance may want to give this a shot.
- Dragonflight (book) by Anne McCaffrey - Those who'd like another "sci-fi book that feels like fantasy" might want to try this or one of McCaffrey's other Dragonriders of Pern books. Like Fletcher's books, McCaffrey's also often have a bit of romance in them.
- Ooku: The Inner Chambers (manga) by Fumi Yoshinaga - In this alternate history, a strange disease kills off most of the men in feudal Japan. I haven't read much of this one yet, but it seems fascinating.
- The Twelve Kingdoms book series (first book is Sea of Shadow) by Fuyumi Ono; The Twelve Kingdoms (anime TV series) - If you'd like another fantasy story featuring a re-imagined society, you might want to try this. In the world of the Twelve Kingdoms, no one reproduces sexually - instead, children come from egg-fruit trees. If I remember correctly, not much is made of a person's gender - people in positions of power can be either male or female without anyone batting an eye. I have written about the anime and several of the books.